The plight of Palestinians imprisoned by Israel being ignored in the West

Released detainees tell of abuse and indefinite detention, but their plight is unlikely to gain much attention in the West.

For over six months, the world has watched the devastating Israeli campaign against Palestinians in Gaza, which has killed people so far (including over 16,000 children). Fewer are aware, however, of the nearly 10,000 Palestinians held in Israeli prisons, many of whom have been repeatedly arrested and held for prolonged, indefinite periods. These include children, university students, medics, doctors, and journalists, among others. While these numbers have increased dramatically in just over half a year, media coverage is sparse, with the exception of some reporting on Layan Nasir, one of the Christian university students earlier this month. She was taken by Israeli troops from her family’s home in the early morning, with her parents held at gunpoint. But this is not an isolated phenomenon, she’s just one of many Palestinian students similarly abducted, ostensibly in the name of security, for taking part in campus activism. On April 7, the Palestinian Commission of Detainees and Ex-Detainees Affairs the latest kidnappings of Layan Kayed and Layan Naser, two young women who have previously been and , along with multiple others.

Palestinians have been detained by Israel since the current war on Gaza started last October – a number revealed by an investigation by Palestinian NGO Al Mezan Cetner for Human Rights. According Al Mezan, this includes “women, children, elderly people, as well as professionals such as doctors, nurses, teachers and journalists.” Out of the estimated 3,000 detainees, 1,650 Gazans are held under the Unlawful Combatants Law – a law similar to administrative detention but specific to Gazan Palestinians. They are also imprisoned without charge or legal representation, suspected of being “unlawful combatants.” They are, Al Mezan notes, “held in total isolation from the outside world” and “are neither granted the status of prisoners of war under the Third Geneva Convention, nor afforded the protections of civilian detainees under the Fourth Geneva Convention.” Another 300 (including ten children) not currently detained under the Unlawful Combatants Law are being imprisoned pending investigation.

Israeli Guantanamos Reports of torture of incarcerated Palestinians () have been published , with more emerging in recent months. Israeli rights group B’Tselem that “Every year, Israel arrests and detains hundreds of Palestinian minors, while routinely and systemically violating their rights: during the arrest [and] under interrogation.” In March, the executive director of the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel (PCATI) extreme concern, stating that the nearly 10,000 imprisoned Palestinians is, “a 200% increase from any normal year” and that, since last October, at least 27 Palestinians have died in Israeli prison camps inside Gaza. Prisoners include children and the elderly, including an 82-year-old grandmother. These detention camps, from what I saw , are large areas bulldozed flat, without tents or shelter. Former inmates describe them as “open-air cages,” where prisoners are “handcuffed and blindfolded 24 hours a day.” There are numerous new of Palestinians mistreated in Israeli detention. Examples include one elderly man from southern Gaza alleged to have been tortured so badly that his leg became infected and after seven days of medical negligence, had to be . Another 60-year-old man is said to have been held for over 50 days, and severely during that time. Human-rights groups continue to document such accounts and to speak out.

Al Mezan reports all detainees “suffer from acute emaciation, fatigue and back curvature due to being forced to bend their backs and heads while walking,” and that the NGO’s lawyer who spoke with these prisoners stated he had never seen such poor prison conditions in 20 years of working with detainees. More recently, Haaretz on a doctor’s treatment of Palestinians in a field hospital in Israel and of horrific conditions: “Just this week, two prisoners had their legs amputated due to handcuff injuries, which unfortunately is a routine event.” According to him, all patients have all four limbs cuffed and are blindfolded and fed through a straw, meaning “even young and healthy patients lose weight after a week or two of hospitalization.” Now, compare this situation to cases when similar reports or claims come from a state targeted by Washington for regime change or designated as “rogue” or as an “adversary.” In such cases, the claims are often taken at face value, extrapolated, amplified and widely broadcast. For example, in 2017 Western media latched onto claims of a “slaughterhouse” in the town of Saydnaya, Syria, where there were supposed “mass hangings” by the Syrian government. These accusations were uncritically endorsed by legacy media, despite having and not being based on primary sources.

As at the time, Amnesty International admits that since no photos, videos or concrete testimony exist of Saydnaya Prison, they were forced to devise “unique ways with interactive 3D models and digital technology, animations and audio software” and liaised with West-based NGOs that support efforts to overthrow the Syrian government to craft their report, which gained media traction because it supported the NATO narrative on Syria. When it comes to Palestinian prisoners and their reports of being tortured, starved, and denied urgently-needed medical care while in Israeli detention or prisons, such level of effort and media coverage is nowhere to be seen – likely because of the political inconvenience this would cause to Washington and its allies.